As I sat in the Amsterdam airport trying to wrap my head around what happened within 11 days of visiting Africa Yoga Project and Kenya, I couldn’t help but turn the corners of mouth up in a soft smile. I felt like this quote sums up what I experienced during my visit.
“Peace begins with a smile.” – Mother Teresa
The best way I can explain it is by speaking from my experience. I want to take you through my first day at one of Africa Yoga Project’s 350 free yoga outreach classes in the informal settlements of Kenya. It was the most memorable day of my life, besides having my son Cooper and marrying my husband Cleve.
My intention while spending the week with Africa Yoga Project and visiting Kenya was to observe, listen, be open, and to completely allow myself to embrace each emotion that I felt. I wanted to have my own experience and not let the experience of others shape the way I should feel.
My first day out in the informal settlements visiting outreach was a mix of emotions. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster sometimes. As we drove to our first destination, my eyes were taking in the reality of the living conditions of the underdeveloped areas in Nairobi.
I allowed myself to have the emotions I felt at these visions. I had never seen this much poverty at this level. I had questions come up of how can they survive like this? Being very aware of my way of thinking, I allowed myself to have these thoughts and inquiries, but then let them go.
We finally arrived at one of our first outreach classes at Graciouskideo Primary School in and informal settlement, Huruma . As I stepped out the car, I was greeted with smiling faces chanting Mzungu, pronounced “muh-zun-goo,” which means white person. I had to giggle when I found out what it meant. It’s kind of catchy – mzungu. I heard that term a lot during the week being blue eyed, blond hair and as white as possible in Africa.
After getting some hugs and pats on the hair (they loved to touch my hair), we walked though a narrow, dirt pathway to find the room where yoga was being taught. The room was four walls held up by tin metal sheets (looked like I could blow them over), dirt floors and no electricity. This is what every classroom looked like in that school.
The moment I walked into that classroom and saw the 40 kids practicing yoga with on of our 78 employed Africa Yoga Project teachers, I landed. I landed in this experience and on this journey. The space was filled with the contagious energy of joy and happiness.
I quickly realized that these kids and youth growing up in the Nairobi’s informal settlements are not just surviving. They are LIVING. They are living and creating the best life in their reality and using yoga as a tool to do this. Yoga has created hope, joy and peace in their lives. It has also created opportunities for the teachers to be empowered to create a sustainable living for themselves.
Realizing and experiencing this first hand, I became overwhelmed with happiness. I felt my body tingle with an overwhelming since of radiance and lightness. A smile planted itself on my face and never left. At this moment, I was at PEACE.
Africa Yoga Project educates, empowers, elevates and employs youth through the power of yoga. The vision is to create opportunities for youth to step into their greatness, become self-sustaining and leaders in their communities. www.africayogaproject.org